Courtesy of Point Park University

Exclusive: Sullivan revisits what went awry ☕️


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The Penguins could look at the sweep they endured in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring a couple of ways.

They could view being jettisoned from the postseason in four games by the Islanders as a bitter embarrassment that left indelible bruises on their collective psyche.

Or they could see it as a humbling comeuppance that exposed them as an underachieving group that had lost the drive that made them a Stanley Cup champion just two years earlier.

Equally attractive options, huh?

Make no mistake, Mike Sullivan remains keenly aware of all that happened -- and, in some cases, didn't happen -- during that most exasperating week in April. And that might never change.

"I'm not sure if you ever get over disappointments like that," Sullivan was telling me. "You try to figure out what you could have done differently or what you can learn from it so that you can try to take the experience and turn it into something productive, but we're all in it to win championships, and when it doesn't go the right way, all of us are disappointed."

But while the past can't be altered, it doesn't necessarily have to be repeated. Although the Penguins didn't get any victories out of that Islanders series, there were plenty of lessons in it for them that, if absorbed, could serve them well in the seasons ahead.

High on the list is recognizing that their most grievous problems were self-inflicted, the by-product of ignoring fundamental principles of Sullivan's system and the strategies that had been devised for countering New York's.

"This is something we've had a lot of discussions with our players about," Sullivan said. "We've had multiple discussions as a coaching staff and a management team on how we can be better, in order to make sure we control what we can to have success. When I look at that series, reviewing some of the games, the thing I think that sticks out to me the most is, I don't think we controlled all the controllables that gave us the best chance to win.

"When I say that -- and this was something that we talked about through the whole course of the series -- there were no surprises. We knew exactly how that series was going to be played. We knew exactly how the Islanders were going to try to play against us: They were going to play a patient, disciplined game. They were going to have numbers back. They weren't going to give us odd-man rushes. That was the type of series it was going to be. We had to find a comfort level in that type of a series.

"That's not something [that] is unique to some of the game plans we've been up against in my tenure in the playoffs. We just did a better job of handling them (previously). We didn't do as good a job in that Islanders series as we could have, or should have, as a group. That, for me, is the biggest takeaway -- when you control the controllables, when you do your best as a group not to defeat yourself. And that can manifest itself in a lot of different ways, whether it's puck management or lack of discipline or not paying attention to the details that are so (significant) to the overall team game. And I think it was a combination of all those things. I know we're capable of much more. I think we all feel the same way. We just have to make sure we heed that hard lesson."

Do that, and Sullivan's players could take a big step toward avoiding a repeat of the week-long nightmare that brought their 2018-19 season to such an abrupt and unpleasant end.

Part 1: Sullivan on Phil Kessel
Part 3: More from Sullivan, tomorrow

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